Why does my WordPress keep crashing? Tame your plugin monster

Author: Unfold Agency
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“My WordPress keeps crashing”

This is one of the most common problems businesses approach us with. WordPress is a free open-source software, and one of the most popular and long-standing CMS options available. It’s popular largely for its extreme flexibility, and the fantastic ecosystem that has been developed around the platform – meaning a wealth of knowledge, talent and plugins are available to help everyone from first time web designers to global corporates, utilise WordPress to manage their website. One of the most accessible ways of customising a WordPress site is through plugins. Plugins are one of WordPress’ greatest powers, but also one of its most crippling weaknesses and one of the leading reasons why your WordPress keeps crashing.

At their best, plugins enable you to very quickly and easily integrate other 3rd party services, or implement complex functionality that would take ages to build yourself. At their worst though, plugins offer you the opportunity to install shoddy, poorly maintained code which has serious performance and security ramifications.

Plugins can make your site slow and unreliable

A really common issue we see is an over-reliance on plugins being used to develop a WordPress website – a syndrome we’ve affectionately termed “The Plugin Monster”. 

This happens when you gradually duct tape together lots of different plugins from different developers and sources, with varying quality. This may start out okay, but as the number of plugins increases eventually the symptoms start to show – different functions and features of the site start to break or it begins to operate *really* slowly. This is one of the leading reasons why business’ WordPress keeps crashing. This hurts your Google search ranking, frustrates customers and ultimately damages your business growth.

Plugins make you susceptible to hackers

Not only are there performance concerns, but security issues too. When you install a plugin, you’re inserting code someone else has written into the core of the website. When we think about plugins in this way, it becomes obvious that actually they could become quite dangerous when not used correctly.

Out of date, poor quality plugins have been at the heart of some very high profile data leaks including the Panama Papers, where a security vulnerability in an image carousel slider was responsible for hackers gaining access to 4.8 Million emails from the Panamanian law and accounting firm Mossack Fonseca.

A really common issue we see is an over-reliance on plugins being used to develop a WordPress website – a syndrome we’ve affectionately termed “The Plugin Monster”. 

So what plugins can I use?

If your WordPress keeps crashing, you can never eliminate risk entirely, nor would you want to avoid plugin usage completely, but there are some simple vetting processes you can do before selecting which plugins to use that will help you minimise the risks associated:

  • Check if the plugin is from a reputable 3rd party company e.g. MailChimp, HubSpot, WooCommerce. If they’re built by big teams, it’s likely that they take security seriously and you know they’ll regularly be updating the plugin to patch any flaws that are discovered in future.
  • If the plugin is from a more independent developer, check to see how often the plugin is updated. Do they regularly maintain the codebase? If they are a small company or independent outfit, what are the chances they will abandon the plugin – if you’re building tech that will rely on their plugin in future, you need to know that it will be maintained for future WordPress versions too.
  • Check how many installations and reviews the plugin has – if it’s been widely adopted it’s more likely to be well maintained and bug free.

How can you tackle your plugin monster?

If you’re currently struggling with a bloated, slow or vulnerable WordPress site there are a few things you can do to get back on track:

  • Setup a staging site: first and foremost, make sure you or your developer have a staging site setup. A staging site is an exact duplicate of your live site, but on a separate sub-domain e.g. staging.yourwebsite.com. This is used as a sandbox, well away from your customers where you can change and test things without any risks.
  • Troubleshoot your plugins: If you’ve got a specific bug occurring, try disabling all your plugins and see if the bug still occurs. If disabling all the plugins resolves the issue, slowly turn each plugin back on again until you can isolate the perpetrator. This is a painstaking job but it usually does the trick if you’ve got a conflict.
  • Update, update, update: well maintained plugins, along with WordPress itself, will constantly be updated by their respective developers. It’s vital that you keep these up to date in order to benefit from the latest security patches and performance improvements.
  • Audit your plugins: are there any candidates for removal? Are there any plugins which a developer could build straight into the theme to remove the reliance on third-party code? Remove any you’re no longer using.

Sometimes you need to tackle the root cause:

Sometimes your plugin monster might have run away with you and the bugs and technology you’re using need a fundamental rethink from the ground up. It can be much better and more stable for your business in the longer term if you build back using lightweight, efficient code which makes the site secure, fast and reduces the frequency of your WordPress crashing.